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Venezuela women's groups halt abortion services after activist arrest

CARACAS (Reuters) - Women’s activists in Venezuela have largely halted unofficial abortion services after the arrest of a university professor who helped a 13-year-old girl to end a pregnancy, according to 10 women’s rights advocates interviewed by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Locals hold a flag at a gathering in Caracas, Venezuela September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

Police in October raided the home of Vannesa Rosales in the northwestern state of Merida and arrested her. Her lawyer says she will likely be charged with inducing an abortion and conspiring to commit a crime for her role in helping the girl terminate a pregnancy after being raped.

Rosales was held behind bars for more than three months without being formally charged, but was released from prison on Monday and is now under house arrest, according to her lawyer, Venus Faddull. Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab tweeted Sunday night that a man had been indicted for raping the teenager.

Venezuela has one of the strictest abortion laws in South America, allowing the practice only to save the mother’s life - but a number of individuals, organizations and informal networks around the country nevertheless counsel women on terminations.

In addition to providing emotional and physical support, they may connect the women with doctors or with people who sell abortion-inducing drugs such as misoprostol, or even sometimes provide the drug themselves.

The penalty for terminating a pregnancy ranges from six months to two years for the woman and from one to three years for the practitioner.

Local media in the past few years have reported a handful of cases of women being imprisoned for terminations, but the issue has not been at the center of Venezuela’s women’s rights movement.

“I don’t remember in the last 10 years an activist like Vannesa being arrested,” Faddull said.

Venezuela does not publish statistics about abortion or the availability of contraceptives, but activists say more women have sought abortion services since the start of an ongoing economic crisis.

Contraception has for years been unaffordable for most women or simply unavailable, and many cannot afford the cost of bringing up a child, the groups say.

Last month, Argentina became the third Latin American country to permit elective abortions when its parliament passed a bill allowing terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Venezuela’s information ministry and prosecutor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Mariela Nava in Maracaibo, Sarah Kinosian in Caracas and Anggy Polanco in Tachira; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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